Turks Widen Probe of Journalist's Death

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 3:35 AM

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A Turkish court has decided to broaden the investigation into the killing of an ethnic Armenian journalist to consider allegations of official negligence in the slaying, a lawyer said Tuesday.

After a 12-hour hearing on Monday, the court released four of the 18 suspects implicated in the killing of Hrant Dink, who was gunned down on Jan. 19, until the resumption of the trial on Oct. 1.

The killing led to international condemnation and debate within Turkey about free speech. Dink was hated by hardline nationalists for describing the mass killings of Armenians early in the last century as genocide.

The trial is taking place behind closed doors because the alleged gunman, Ogun Samast, is a minor.

Lawyer Bahri Belen, representing Dink's family, told reporters that the court agreed to broaden the investigation.

Two of the key suspects, Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, claimed they worked for the security forces. The alleged gunman had remained silent during the trial.

Tuncel, who is suspected of masterminding the killing, reportedly told the court that he was paid by police for gathering intelligence, according to a lawyer who attended Monday's hearing.

The court decided to ask police to provide a list of Tuncel's telephone calls.

Critics have accused authorities of failing to act on reports of a plot to kill Dink, and it is unclear whether allegations that could potentially be embarrassing for top officials will be explored in the trial.

Hayal's lawyer Fuat Turgut said that his client and the gunman were "manipulated by certain forces because of their patriotic feelings."

Turkey had vowed a thorough investigation, and the governor and police chief of the Black Sea city of Trabzon, the hometown of Samast, were removed from office because of negligence. Some security officials who posed for photographs with the gunman as he held a Turkish flag were also dismissed.

There has been no evidence that directly implicates any police or government official in the slaying of Dink outside his office, however.

Many Turks are convinced that a so-called "deep state" _ a network of state agents or ex-officials, possibly with links to organized crime _ periodically targets reformists and other perceived enemies in the name of nationalism.

Dink sought to encourage reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. But he was prosecuted under Article 301 of Turkey's penal code, which bans insults to Turkish identity, for his comments on the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century.

© 2007 The Associated Press